Teaching students to be successful on and off the chess board
The checkered board and white and black figurines are more than a game to Jose Garza – they are his passion. For the past 12 years, Garza has served as a volunteer chess coach to hundreds of students while teaching them life skills along the way.
Garza and his wife, Anna, began the after-school chess program when his children showed interest in the game. The couple coaches and coordinates events for students at three Chicago Public Schools (CPS) on Chicago’s far southeast side: Gallistel Elementary, Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep and George Washington High School.
“It’s the thrill of seeing the students’ lightbulb turn on. They run up to me and say, ‘I used your tactic and it worked,’” Garza said. “When they get excited, I get excited for them.”
In addition to volunteering untold hours of their time, the couple and the chess parents at Gallistel help raise $9,000 a year to take students to the United States Chess Federation National Tournament. They were recently honored by CPS as chess coaches of the year during conference playoffs. Garza and his wife donated their prize check to Gallistel’s chess club to give more students the opportunity to participate in programs and tournaments.
Jose Garza (middle) and his wife Anna Garza (left) receiving chess coach of the year from CPS on Mar 23, at Whitney Young High School during the CPS K-8 conference playoffs.
When Garza isn’t coaching chess, he works as a senior design work planner for ComEd. He says that chess has helped him solve problems and succeed in his work. Garza hopes he can instill his love for the game in his students. And he reminds them to apply the skills they learn in their personal lives.
“There are so many ways to plan an attack in chess, and I remind this to the kids,” he said. “Like chess, in life, there are so many ways of looking at a problem to solve it.”
He credits the Chicago Chess Foundation (CCF) for exposing him and fostering his passion. As a CCF board member, he helps the foundation promote chess throughout Chicago.
“It was through the foundation I started actively playing chess,” Garza said. “I owe a lot to the board members and CCF’s mission to provide opportunities for kids to learn and compete in chess.”
Garza looks forward to continuing to teach and play the game that has taught him so much.
“For many chess enthusiasts, chess is like religion. Teaching it is like spreading the good word,” he said. “The game carries on with you for the rest of your life.”